The 12th Royal Irish Rifles

An internet history of the Central Antrim Volunteers

Who shall separate us?

Traditional motto of the Irish Regiments

ABOVE: 'The Ration party' .... one of the most famous images of the Great War. According to records in the Imperial War Museum and other sources, this depicts a squad of soldiers from the 12th Royal Irish Rifles (allegedly) on July 1 1916. However, the picture was taken at a stretch of support trench called 'White City' which was much nearer to Beaumont Hamel than the area of operations for 12th Rifles on July 1. There is no doubt that many of the men in the picture are indeed Royal Irish Rifles (see the cap badge on the helmet of the lone soldier to the right of the picture). I am doubtful that it was taken on July 1 but it remains a very poignant image. The soldier with the moustache on the left was 'the famous face' used in the opening titles of the BBC's landmark documentary 'The Great War'. He has been 'identified' as several soldiers. I am yet to be convinced of any of the identifications.

IN the early years of the 20th century, Ireland was a united island, ruled from Westminster.

For many years, it had been the wish of many of the majority catholic population to have their own parliament in Dublin.

They reasoned that Ireland could be governed better by a 'home rule' authority which, for the time being at least, would also give loyalty to the British Imperial 'umbrella'.

However, the thought of the governance of Ireland being placed in the hands of the catholic majority was a horrifying prospect for the protestant/unionist population in the northern counties of Ulster where they were in the majority.

Aside from the age-old sectarian tribalism which existed (and sadly, continues to exist), the northern protestants feared that their wealthy province - the must industrialised part of Ireland, would be adversely affected by anu such change in the constitution. They feared 'Rome Rule' as well as 'Home Rule' in almost equal measure.

There is no point in avoiding the issue. It can be plainly stated that the 'southern' part of Ireland was, indeed, a backward, rural entity in comparison with the modernised north. Why this was so is a matter for debate on another occasion. Suffice to say that in the mindset of the northern unionists, 'they' had built Ulster into an agricultural and industrial giant. They saw nothing to attract them towards the merits of home rule. Indeed, they were determined to oppose it.

And that opposition was not merely political. In 1912, the Ulster Volunteer Force smuggled thousands of rifles and tons of ammunition into the province. Larne in the east of Co. Antrim was the main offloading port for these rifles.

In a finely tuned operation which infuriated the British Government and delighted pro-unionists, the men of the UVF dispersed these weapons around the countryside of Ulster. Among those taking part in the gun running exploits were men of the 'North Antrim Regiment' of the UVF.

It was these men who, only a matter of months later, went flocking to the call of 'For King and Empire' - they were the 'originals' who formed the 12th (Service) Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (Central Antrim Volunteers).

And this website tells their story.